The breakthrough British guitar band of last year, Wet Leg created an inescapable earworm with their debut single “Chaise Longue” and its surreal, sunny, self-directed video. After their former folk-tinged project fizzled out in 2019, Isle Of Wight duo Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers adopted a new name and sound with the intention of making music that was emphatically fun, “goofy and a little bit rude”. Signing to indie hit-maker label Domino, home of Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand, they struck a perfect mood-lifting chord for the end of Covid lockdown, selling out their riotous live shows and even making waves in America. But this debut album arrives in darker, more serious times. Their arch, playful, nursery-rhyme punk-pop escapism risks sounding very Last Year.
In fairness, the initial novelty buzz of the band’s early singles has not faded. “Chaise Longue” still sounds instantly, ridiculously catchy and even lightly experimental behind its propulsive new-wave garage-punk throb and hilariously deadpan lyric, a sprechgesang masterclass in saucy innuendo delivered with sexy-cool, arched-eyebrow nonchalance. Its lesser sequel “Wet Dream” is more conventionally indie-rock in sound and more overtly sexual in content, but still a gold-plated banger laced with caustic humour. That astute line about having “Buffalo 66 on DVD” is a laser-targeted dig at the kind of toxic indie-geek fanboy who might revere Vincent Gallo’s tiresomely masturbatory movie.
Two-minute bubblegum grunge-pop gallops are a Wet Leg speciality, and account for some of the stronger tracks here. Punchy and witty, “Being In Love” is a thumpingly great album opener, with Teasdale cooing in woozy mid-Atlantic tones about the horribly addictive sadomasochistic delights of love over a pulsing synth-rock groove. Irony and sarcasm are close cousins in Wet Leg’s romantically disillusioned worldview. Probably the noisiest inclusion here, “Oh No” is another clobbering eruption of lyrical angst and unruly glam-punk wallop. And “Convincing”, sweetly cooed by Chambers, is a gorgeously compact mini-drama about heartbreak and night swimming which must surely be the first song ever to feature the line “bioluminescent plankton shit”. Classy.
With a scruffy-cool sound that nods to bands like The Breeders, Elastica and Pavement, Wet Leg have solidly traditional indie-rock credentials. The crucial question is how far they can expand beyond this fairly conservative, BBC 6Music-friendly formula. The longer, slower, storytelling tracks here certainly hint at a deeper musical and lyrical hinterland. Many appear to take place at stifling social gatherings where Teasdale’s nervy protagonist finds herself bored to tears by dreary male narcissists.
Recent single “Angelica” is the stand-out example in this mode, a chiming psych-pop anthem built around a Groundhog Day scenario about a never-ending party where the eponymous sassy heroine slays the room while the bored narrator politely bats away needy fellow guests: “I don’t wanna follow you on the gram/I don’t wanna listen to your band”. In a similar vein, the dreamy girl-group swooner “I Don’t Wanna Go Out” reflects ruefully on the diminishing appeal of hanging out with other people (“a fucking nightmare”) and features another aspiring rock-boy boasting about his new band project. Teasdale, it seems, has met a lot of tedious male musicians.
Generously laced with weapons-grade swearing, a streak of delicious disdain runs through Teasdale’s lyrics on Wet Leg, mostly directed towards ex-boyfriends and their new partners. Aside from “Wet Dream”, which was inspired by intrusive texts from an ex, the falsetto-voiced country-pop ballad “Loving You” scorns the very idea of staying friends with an old flame: “You say she looks a little bit like me when we first met”, Teasdale gags, “I hope you choke on your girlfriend”. Delivered in an alluringly mannered, hiccup-y, confessional tone, the bluntly titled “Piece Of Shit” twists the knife further with a final volley of insults for a faithless former paramour: “If you were better to me then maybe I’d consider fucking you goodbye”. The deceptively jaunty “Ur Mum” puts it even more brusquely: “Yeah, why don’t you just suck my dick”.
Brisk and adrenalised, Wet Leg leaves little room to get bored, and is impressively low on filler for a debut. Even the sketchy minor tracks earn their place here. A deeper, richer, angrier prospect than the band’s breakthrough singles might have suggested, this album is an unashamedly goofy celebration of fun, sex and romance, but also a bittersweet commentary on the price of pleasure, the cruel downside of love and the trials of being twentysomething women in 21st-century Britain. Even in dark times, Wet Leg deliver winning charm, humour and emotional truth behind their sunny surface silliness.